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A Year of Produce: August

Ear of cornAugust is the much-anticipated month for many eaters when choice is most abundant. Melons, corn, tomatoes, peaches—they almost stand alone as symbols of summer. I look outside at the gray, misty morning and, like many, wonder if that’s it for us. We are summer lovers in the Northwest but we are also rain lovers if we’re willing to admit it. A dormant part of us wants an 8-month excuse to batten down the hatches and curl up with a book, even as we the lament the coming end of sunshine.

But now is not the time for gray skies!

Below is an overview of a debate that unfolded in the press about the folly of eating locally. For recipe goodness, see previous months (links at bottom). You’ll find ideas on what to do with tomatoes, artichokes, fennel, berries, zucchini and more!

Image of fresh produce purchases for August

New here? This is a yearlong personal project tracking how my local food dollars shake out in comparison to non-local (fresh produce only). I’ve found that the process of tracking and drawing what I buy has slowed me down and forced me to pay attention. If nothing else, I enjoy the visual record of what goes in my belly…or that of my friends. Scroll to bottom for links to previous months. All have recipe ideas and links. Download a high-res PDF of this month’s August Fresh Produce Log.

In “The Frenzy of Late Summer Eats,” on the Portland Farmers Market blog, I offer a long list of quick and easy recipe ideas for enjoying the heavy hitters of summer…before time runs out.


Is there folly in local?

If you follow eat-local food news, you might have seen Stephen Budiansky’s piece in the New York Times, “Math Lessons for Locavores.”

His core argument is that the math for local is better is wrong once you tally up the energy costs. Though the numbers might be right, the argument overlooks too many aspects of a complex issue. One part of the larger system can’t be plucked and held up as as proof. He argues that the energy required to transport food across country is only “14 percent of the total energy consumed by the American food system.” He refers to transportation as a tiny part of the overall energy consumption.

He argues that locavores love to cherry pick information and often make assertions that are “selective, usually misleading and often bogus.” Perhaps both sides love their cherries. He dips his toe into herbicide and pesticide, for example, but only from an energy-use standpoint. Where a farmer like Joel Salatin could wax rhapsodic on the ills of chemicals used in farming, Budiansky tosses out one small statistic in a two-sentence paragraph as though energy use is the biggest concern regarding chemicals for growing food. Or that it’s the only part worth measuring—ignoring land use issues, soil health, human health, taste, and so on.

Perhaps it was Budiansky’s intent to drum up reaction, which it did. If the intent had been to ask us all to consider the interrelated pieces of this local-food pie, he might have used a less condescending title. Here’s one rebuttal, “Math Lessons for Budiansky,” on Ethicurian. And Grist compiled responses from a number of voices in the food community. Author James E. McWilliams points out, “I think pieces such as ‘Math Lessons for Locavores‘ (which, by the way, I generally agree with) have run their course. Instead of making us rethink a common assumption, at this point in the game they do little more than drive the debate deeper into the trenches.” He calls for addressing more important issues like a safe and environmentally sound global food system and access to affordable healthy food for everyone.

What they argue is not so much a rebuttal to his energy math, but that he’s arguing the wrong points about the issue. Food analyst Ken Meter, in “Going Loco: A locavore does the real math,” addresses this very point. On the dwindling supply of oil, its associated dangers and the hidden costs of “cheap” food, he says, “The U.S. has invested in infrastructure that conveys relatively inert foods long distances with remarkable efficiency, at least as long as external costs such as leaking oil wells, oil wars in the Middle East, and depreciation allowances are not considered in the equation.”

Food seems to be the topic of the year, or perhaps the decade. The industrial food system has been well exposed—from land use, to energy use, to chemical use, to nutrition issues, to food subsidies. We know enough to know what to fix and why. But access to affordable healthy, chemical-free, parasite-free food might continue to vex us for a while.

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  1. eileen says:

    As I look at all the lovely fresh food you had in August, and then read the entry with it I have to think about this article I just saw about the state of “fresh food” in the DC Public schools in a local food magazine:
    And in the back of my mind is Jamie Oliver’s tv show about trying to change school food in Huntington, VA….
    Is it that we’re privileged? Is the system just so completely broken? Both?

    • It’s amazing how food has become such a topic and in a good way. Or is it that I’m paying attention? It’ll be interesting to see how Jamie’s show takes shape and what change it might generate. He started in the right place, not just geographically, but with kids and raising awareness. I wish it hadn’t been as drama-like as it was.

  2. eileen says:

    Something else this has me thinking about, although minor in the scheme of things: since we’re growing our own and know more about all the “stuff” that can happen to our efforts (from diseases to critters) — are you now more or less finicky about the produce that you buy? Forgiving of bug holes, blemishes?

    I’m not sure I know my own answer to that…I’ll have to try to take notice.

    • I know that the perfect-looking waxed apple or pure white eggs are what people associate with tasting good, which just isn’t true. Some produce you don’t want to buy with blemishes, but on a tomato, who cares? As long as my bug holes don’t have anything living in it, I’m fine. Though I’ve had to get used to bringing spiders and caterpillars into the kitchen : )

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